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MOOCs: Should We Believe the Hype?

bettina February 11, 2014 Learning Comments Off on MOOCs: Should We Believe the Hype?

BY ALEC LANG

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC’s for short, have the potential to turn the world of higher education upside down, and change it into something completely different.  MOOC’s are free online courses, and anyone with the proper technology can enroll.  The only thing required to enroll and participate in a MOOC is a computer and access to the internet.  The simplicity and convenience of the model explains why there is so much hype surrounding MOOCs.  However, this should be taken with a grain of salt, as there is just as much controversy that surrounds MOOC’s as there is hype.

On paper, free MOOC education supplied by Universities such as Harvard and Stanford (through MOOC services such as Udacity and Coursera) seems like the perfect model for higher education in the 21st century.  The idea that people everywhere would have the same opportunity as the wealthy or privileged to receive a top of the line college education, regardless of wealth or status, was once a pipedream.  MOOCs almost make that a reality.

Just like everything in life, you get what you pay for, and MOOCs are no different.  Since MOOCs are free, that’s what you get…nothing.  You cannot receive college credit anywhere for completing a MOOC.  The only thing you receive for passing the course is a certificate from the instructor.  And it’s not like these certificates are being passed out rapidly, either.

According to Duke University, only 350 of the 12,725 enrolled students completed the course.  That is a dropout rate of 97%.  Similarly at Stanford, only 13,000 of the initial 46,000 students enrolled completed the course, a dropout rate of 72%.  These dropout rates are alarming because it shows that students are obviously unmotivated to finish the course.  Perhaps this is because the course is free, and students feel they have nothing to lose.  Perhaps it’s because the instruction lacks inspiration.  Or perhaps MOOC students are simply alienated because they never get to know their teachers or peers.

Another big problem MOOC instructors are facing is cheating.  A University of Michigan professor reported several dozens incidents of plagiarism in his MOOC course of 39,000 students.  As of now, there is no plagiarism-detection program for MOOC software.  Because of the mass amount of students enrolled in these courses, it would be impossible for the instructor to grade all of the coursework, so all coursework is peer-reviewed, and peer-graded.

This has opened up the door for even more problems.  Not everybody grading is qualified to offer meaningful feedback.  This is because the range of students enrolled in the course is so broad (it can range from a 14 year old kid, to a 70 year old retiree) there is no basic, fundamental  educational or knowledge base among these demographics.  There is also the chance that the individual grading your work is just a bad grader or has no motivation to grade well whatsoever.

If the powers-that-be solve these issues with MOOCs, than yes, they could potentially change the face of higher education as we know it.  However, there could be one giant consequence of this model of education, and that’s hegemony.  It’s terrifying to think that everybody around the world would be receiving the same exact education from the same exact instructors.

For as long as we can remember, technology has threatened to change the face of education.  However, most of the time, these threats turn out to be only that.  Sure, technology always has the potential to make education more convenient, but it doesn’t always make it more efficient.  Nothing is more powerful than the personal relationship between an instructor and his/her pupils.

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